Vancouver, British Columbia, did not invent Skid Row. The strip along East Hastings Street is like strips all over the North American continent, complete with pawn shops, gyp joints, and people who shuffle along with collars turned up against the cold, who shout and yell their misery, who mutter out loud to invisible companions.
First United Church stands on the strip. It is one of those churches that was fashionable in its day but was abandoned as its congregation moved to the suburbs. Looking a bit like a boat with a triangular prow, First Church towers above a bus stop at a busy Hastings Street corner.
Inside it is shabby. The carpets are threadbare in spots, and people are sitting everywhere. Most of these people look poor, tired, and worried. Some don't speak English; most don't speak officialese. They come for a place to sit, a cup of coffee, a friendly smile, a support group meeting, a political exiles' gathering. Some come looking for an easy mark.
First Church is a sign for me, a pointer. It points the way to hope. I don't believe that Band-Aid programs are the hope of our future, nor that we will all be saved by our good works. Even the political action in which First Church is involved is not the real hope. Hope lies deeper than any of these things.